Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse is an institution in Chicago. The restaurant has deep ties to the Cubs, has hosted famous people such as Barack Obama, and is housed in the Chicago Varnish Co. Building. This structure, located at 33 West Kinsey, has such exceptional architecture and history that it was designated a landmark by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, but it’s more than just a beautiful space. Its walls have seen crime and secrets, with mobsters running the show during the Prohibition and beyond.
The history of the building has captivated people for years, and some people say that a spirit from those dark days still walks its floors.
33 West Kinsey’s Early Days
When the building was constructed for the Chicago Varnish Co. in 1895, it was built on the first official block in Chicago. In the early years, it was the site of respectable business, such as the varnish company and later a museum of taxidermy animals.
However, a few decades after the turn of the century, the building became home to much seedier types. Prohibition gave rise to gangsters, who dominated the crime world with bootlegging, gambling, and speakeasies throughout the city. The respectable building found a new life with much less innocent activities.
Around 1919, an established mob boss, Johnny “The Brain” Torrio brought a protégé to town — Al Capone. Together they built an empire out of gambling, bootlegging, prostitution, and speakeasies. By the time Torrio left for Italy in 1925, Capone was a brutal mob boss who wielded control over much of the city.
Living at 33 West Kinsey was Capone’s enforcer and fellow bootlegger, Frank Nitti. His wife’s family owned the building, and they had an apartment on the fourth floor. Nitti helped Capone run his crime ring, and when Capone was sent to prison in 1931, Nitti stepped in to take over some of his territories.
Nitti took his life in 1943 to avoid being sent to prison, but some people believe he can still be found at his old home on West Kinsey. When Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse was opened in 1998, strange things started to come to light.
Over the last two decades, Nitti’s secrets have started to come to light in the old building. A safe was found hidden behind walls. When safe crackers finally made their way inside, an address book was found. The book listed the names of people with connections to the mob, including known gangsters and city officials. A hidden vault was also discovered, which appeared to be a hideout during the Prohibition. It had a passageway to a secret network of tunnels that helped bootleggers move throughout the city.
People in the restaurant have reported strange sightings. Many have caught glimpses of a man in a fedora walking through the rooms on the fourth floor of the building, in the area Nitti’s apartment was. The same man has been spotted in the vault in the basement. And just a few years ago something else was discovered in the walls of the building. Behind the bricks is a box, and no one knows what is in it.
Or perhaps one person in the building does know. Is Nitti still there to protect the treasure he left behind? Hopefully, we will all find out what the box holds when the owners figure out how to remove the box without destroying the wall. Until then all we can do is speculate and try to catch sight of the spirit of the man who hid it.
Nightly Spirit offers a Chicago Gangster Tour that takes you right through this storied restaurant. Our knowledgeable guides will tell you more about the history of the area, as well as the locations that can’t shake the rumors of being haunted. To experience the past like never before, book a tour with us today!